Businesses and politicians across Yorkshire must display more “unity of purpose” in order to secure major infrastructure investments such as a proposed Trans Pennine Tunnel, according to Dr Adam Marshall, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.
Dr Marshall was the keynote speaker at the Sheffield City Region Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) breakfast event, which included a panel debate about the possibility of creating a Trans Pennine Tunnel to improve connections between South Yorkshire and Manchester. The event also studied the findings of the QES for the fourth quarter of 2016. The study showed that most companies in the city region have a positive outlook, despite uncertainties caused by Brexit and changes in the global economy.
However, the survey results - which are based on responses from 300 businesses across the region - revealed that many manufacturing firms were still struggling to find skilled staff. Potential inflationary factors were also influencing decision-making, the survey found.
In his speech, Dr Marshall said: “I don’t think, as business communities across the United Kingdom, we have had a better moment to push for big infrastructure projects,.in a very long time.
“National Government believes that infrastructure is going to be one of the keys to our success in a post-Brexit world. We’ve also seen a real willingness, among ministers of every stripe, to talk about infrastructure and, indeed, to put their money where their mouth is.
“But we’re also failing as a country in certain respects. We are terrible at getting the connectivity we need going from east to west, the trans-Pennine route being one of the key examples of that, but it’s not the only one.
“We are not doing enough to get private money into infrastructure. Every Government says they want to do it, but every Government doesn’t do as much as they originally promised. Then the next Government comes in and says it again.
“We’re still not making up for past deficiencies,” he added. “So we need to take advantage of this moment.”
He said the regions across the North of England needed to have a positive and ambitious vision for what infrastructure investment could bring in terms of growth and productivity.
He added: “Sometimes the argument about transport infrastructure and investment in the North is, ‘London gets X more per head than we do. We want our fair share.’
“That argument doesn’t work. It never works, because when a minister has a marginal pound to spend, they are going to spend it on the things that gives them the biggest return.
“The thing that gives them the biggest return, because of how big London is, is very often in London. So, instead, the argument has to be about transformation. The argument has to be optimistic and positive and not about the share of a cake that’s the same size, but increasing the size of that cake.”
Afterwards, Dr Marshall said that it was very important that businesses, councils and other groups came together, and spoke up for their shared interests.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “I look forward to seeing more unity of purpose, and (people) listening to those business communities who are saying, ‘We really need a few big things done in order to be able to drive the economy.’
Commenting on the latest QES, Prof Andrew Simpson, the associate dean for external business advancement, from the Sheffield University Management School, said: “The survey shows a region coping well with the uncertainty caused by major geo-political events.
“There is, however, a strong desire in the city region for reduced uncertainty around the Brexit process and for reduced volatility in exchange rates. ”
A new Trans Pennine Tunnel would benefit the whole country, according to Darren Oldham, the study lead of the Trans Pennine Tunnel study team.
However, Mr Oldham said the proposed new tunnel would have to keep up with changing modes of transport. He made the comments about the planned development in a panel debate chaired by Greg Wright, the deputy business editor of The Yorkshire Post. The other participants were South Yorkshire businessmen Clive Watkinson, Tony Hickton and Peter Kennan, who all have strong links with the transport sector. The event was held at the Holiday Inn, Barnsley.
A publication summarising the Q4 QES results with regards to the economy, skills and labour and international trade is available on the QES website: www.screconomy.org.uk.
Sheffield City Region businesses will be surveyed again from February 20 to March 13. The survey is sponsored by RBS South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, in association with Doncaster Sheffield Airport.